MCALLEN– The Federal Bureau of Investigation issued a statement Monday warning Rio Grande Valley residents about a recent spike in “virtual kidnapping” extortion calls in the area.
These calls typically involve an individual or criminal organization contacting a victim via telephone and demanding payment for the return of a supposedly kidnapped family member or friend, the statement reads. While no actual kidnapping has taken place, the callers often use co-conspirators to convince their victims of the legitimacy of the threat.
The statement says scammers will often portray themselves as members of a drug cartel or corrupt law enforcement before demanding money in a fashion that instills fear and panic in the victim. Callers may make the victim feel as though they are being watched, when in reality many of the calls originate from outside of the United States. Usually instructions are given to transfer the funds immediately by wire.
According to the statement, multiple law enforcement agencies have seen a rise in the number of victims reporting they have fallen prey to this scam and have been defrauded out of large sums of money in the past couple weeks. Authorities believe many more individuals have been victimized as well but have not reported the incidents to law enforcement, either out of fear or embarrassment. Individuals, families and small businesses have all been the targets of the calls.
Indicators of the extortion scheme include calls being made from an outside area code, multiple phone calls, calls not coming from the supposedly kidnapped victim’s phone, callers going to great lengths to keep you on the phone, callers preventing you from calling or locating the supposed kidnap victim and ransom money only being accepted via a wire transfer service
Individuals who feel they may be falling victim to the scam should remember to stay calm and try to slow the situation down by asking the caller to repeat their requests. Potential victims should avoid sharing personal information during the call and ask to speak with their loved one, asking them questions only they could answer to verify their identity. While on the phone, potential victims should begin attempting to locate their loved one via text or social media.
Anyone targeted by one of these calls should contact the FBI’s McAllen office at (956) 984-6300 or its San Antonio office at (210) 225-6741.